“Dowager Imperatrix,” Ubifeksas said, interrupting her train of thought. He spoke quietly because the Imperial Pharmacist had fallen asleep in his chair, his current report unfinished off to one side. “I have all the data.”
She laid her pen down and took the proffered pages, she skimmed through the beginning, read the conclusion carefully. “It is in the water,” she said. “Though we cannot see it with our lenses.”
“Even our most powerful. Not in any way I can recognize, Dowager.”
She held the sheet back to him and added her own. “The conclusions I was just drawing from the last set of rodents.”
He read and then looked up. “It is in the water, but carried in the male line? How is that possible?”
“The illness might cling to cells in the males seed,” Inensa said
And thus infect the females. Does it pass from the females to males again?” The researcher, who normally looked so young, suddenly gained a weight of age stooping his shoulders.
“No. If we put both of our conclusions together it seems as though we have an illness that infects the male, who then infects the female so that she cannot bear to term. Once infected it does not matter if she is put to an uninfected male. She is made sterile.” Inensa’s voice was grim.
“We don’t know that,” Ubifeksas said. “Can we cleanse people of this, if we can’t even find it?”
She rose slowly but her motion disturbed Amitzas, whose cat leapt up onto his lap. His hand rose sharply as he woke, then slowed, the automatic killing stroke softened into a caress between the ears of his big gold cat, who flopped over onto his side. “We have some results?” he asked, blinking and adjusted his spectacles, disgracefully knocked askew on his face while napping.
“Yes, father. Here are our conclusions.” She gave him the whole stack of papers and he nodded.
“It is very late and the two of you should rest. If you push yourselves that hard you will impair your function.”
“Yes, Ser.” “Yes, father.”
“I’ll see you in the morning, when we make our report to Minis.”
Inensa stopped at the Mahid nursery, nodded at Sula, who was on night duty watching over the children. It was a very different place now.
The Imperator had said that the children should have access to a great many more toys than had been the norm. The walls had been hung with dark grey on grey or dull green tapestries when Inensa had slept here as a child. The walls of white marble were more exposed now, and the tapestries were of birds and flowers and animals, real and mythical, lit by sun tubes during the day. The night lamp actually had moon and stars on the glass shade and many of the palace cats had decided on which child they would sleep with.
She stopped at the foot of Tesha’s bed and just stood looking. She wasn’t sure what she was looking for. Two of the palace fluffies had made her their special charge, both white with red-gold ears, one with long, soft droops, the other with pricked up ears and a face like a butterfly’s wings. The baby had a hand wound into each puppy’s fur and the animals panted contentedly up at Inensa. It’s good. 2nd Amitzas was already tormenting animals at her age. They like her. I should only fear that her father is coming out in her if she begins showing signs of wanting blood. Right now she wants cuddles.
She ran her glove over the rumpled bedding, smoothing it down, a fleeting touch to one of her daughter’s fists. She’s asleep and I won’t wake her to put on her baby mitts. Children just run around bare handed.
She felt the pressure of emotion of some kind in her chest. She didn’t recognize it, but knew it could be relieved. The Haian had laid out the procedure for her relief from unwanted and uncomfortable pressures.
Inensa nodded to Sula, who smiled as she nodded back. I must not reprimand her for the smile.
She turned and went toward her own room. The door was thick enough that her medical procedure would disturb no one.
Once safely in her room she carefully spread a thick towel over her coverlet, placed the medicinal oil Akminchaer had given her over the warming lamp, and disrobed. She shivered all over as the cool air in the depths of the Marble Palace touched unaccustomed skin. The door was closed, yes, and locked from inside. She checked again, feet against the cool stone and then the rug by her bed.
She undid her hair. Akminchaer said that too tight binding could trigger a headache and she had no wish to encourage that. It still frightened her, reminding her of disrobing for her husband, but this was healing, not pain.
Inensa lay down on her back, pulling the silk coverlet up around her shoulders, anointed her hands with the warm oil. Then, hissing between her teeth, she began to gently massage her thighs, just at the inside of the knees.
When she’d first tried this, she’d rubbed the oil in fast and achieved the hysterical paroxysm so quickly it had been painful and Akmninchaer had requested that when she relieve her symptoms that she be gentle.
“The skin there and up higher, all the way across your purification, is tender,” he’d said in his gentle accent. “Even with the post-birth easement we did, you need to be careful of scarring. Slow, and gentle, please.”
It had taken almost a year of work for her to relieve her condition without pain. Now she was confident. Her fingers slid up her thighs, with long, gentle strokes and then, languidly more oil. Higher she gripped and massaged the muscles all along her inner thigh, the deepest, tightest ones painful. She eased them and as the pull on her bones eased, she let her head fall back and the wild, embarrassing breaths began, the flush of blood to her purification, her groin. Her fingers soothed her own quivers, so like fear, but she could imagine them as excitement.
Her throat ached until she let herself moan. “The sound is a sign of coming release. Don’t fight it.” Akminchaer’s voice. She moaned and then gasped as she touched the ragged edges of what had been her purification. The edges were swollen and wet and she knew that she would have relief soon... soon.
It was terrifying and exhilarating and she gasped as she touched herself. That was where Minis had come from. That was where Tesha had emerged.... ah... it was coming. Her condition... ah... yes... it would not escape her to torment her with symptoms, distractions, during the day... the fingers of both hands stroked firmly, lightly, firmly.... There. She could feel it rising all up her back. Her spine crackled with tension and she arched up, crying out. Finally. And a second. Her fingers darted up between her lips, the taste of cinnamon oil and then back down. One or two firm strokes would have it out of her.... there.
She collapsed, bonelessly, thankful that it was over again. It was surprisingly steady a condition, rising up once or twice in an eight-day. This time she had not shamefully besmirched her bed.
The towel felt warm and very soothing between her legs. She no longer scrubbed at herself as if every drop of moisture there was vile. “Gently,” she whispered to remind herself. “Be gentle with yourself, woman.”